Some of you may have missed it but recently the Arch-Bishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams suggested that Britain might need to consider adopting portions of Islamic law (Sharia) to govern in Britain, particularly in the context of Islamic communities within Britain. Now, Williams went out of his way to say that the bad parts of Islamic law shouldn’t be allowed, insisting that only the more benign parts be considered as potentially valuable contributions. It seems what Williams was contending for was the idea of a pluralistic society embracing supplementary jurisdictions, while still being, in some fuzzy unexplainable way, responsible to a overarching universal law. This would be, in Williams words,
a scheme in which individuals retain the liberty to choose the jurisdiction under which they will seek to resolve certain carefully specified matters, so that ‘power-holders are forced to compete for the loyalty of their shared constituents’
When someone introduces the notion of individuals retaining the liberty to choose the jurisdiction they will be adjudicated under one gets a vision of market place legal arrangements where individuals can shop for the best overall deal.
The Arch-Bishop ended his lecture by saying,
…if what we want socially is a pattern of relations in which a plurality of divers and overlapping affiliations work for a common good, and in which groups of serious and profound conviction are not systematically faced with the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty, it (supplementary jurisdictions) seems unavoidable.
Now here we have some observations and questions.
1.) Who or what determines the common good? An Islamic answer to what is the common good is going to be different than a Christian answer to what the common good is. A culture of feminism is going to define the common good differently then a culture of Muslims. Whose law or what law or which law will be used in order to decide that question?
The Arch-Bishop assumes a common understanding of a common good. That misplaced assumption is the sand in the gears of his thinking on this subject.
2.) The Arch-Bishop seems to be awakening to the difficulties of any culture being anything but homogeneous. The genesis of the Arch-bishops difficulty is that heterogeneous people are sitting up shop in the same geographic location and that is creating the kind of problems one would expect to find when people of vastly different worldviews become neighbors. His answer is to set up competing but complimentary law systems, which I would think in time would have to give way to competing religious systems, competing familial systems, etc. The Arch-Bishop seems to recognize the problems of the ‘secular’ State providing the totalistic structure under which diverse people are governed. The Arch-Bishop’s answer seems to be to try and find ways to set up competing law systems, but I have to wonder if competing law systems would lead to an amelioration within individuals of conflicted loyalties between culture and state but rather would lead to an intensification of competing loyalties between culture and state due to the inevitable balkanization that would of necessity occur.
3.) Williams seems to understand that if non-enculturated people have to choose between the culture they belong to or what they perceive to be the alien State that is ruling over them the culture will win every time. His suggestion to solve this is to make the State more alien culture friendly by introducing supplementary jurisdiction. One can’t help but wonder though if this becomes a story of the puppy who was allowed to sleep only on the corner of the bed, who, once he got older, ended up covering so much of the bed that the owner was the one sleeping on the corner. Having acquired a taste of ‘supplementary jurisdiction’ why won’t non-enculturated people keep demanding more and more and if they do how do the host people say ‘no’?
What Williams is realizing is that law is religious and that culture is totalistic and when alien cultures are introduced to homogeneous cultures what transpires is either conflict or change, and if change is what transpires then change has to come in the direction of the host culture or in the direction of the alien culture. Williams is, in effect, saying that the host culture must change in the direction of the alien culture.
Apparently many Englishmen, at some level understand that is what Williams is saying and have, understandably, raised a huge stink about what the Arch-Bishop has said.
Coming to the Arch-Bishops defense is another Anglican Bishop, N. T. Wright.
Wright offered the following in his defense,
Second, the fundamental issue Williams was addressing is the relation between the law of the land and the religious conscience of the citizen. For 200 years it has been assumed that these operated in separate spheres: the law regulates my public life, faith or religion operate in private. This was always a dangerous half-truth, since many of the great world faiths, including Christianity itself, actually claim that all of life is included within religious obedience. As some of us used to be taught, if Jesus is not Lord of all, he is not Lord at all. In recent years various governments, including our own, have pushed the other way, to suggest that the secular state is itself master of all of life, including religious conviction….Rowan was going to the roots of these problems and coming up not only with fresh analysis but fresh solutions, particularly what he calls ‘interactive pluralism’. The question of how we live together as a civil and wise society while cherishing different faiths is a deep and serious one and can’t be pushed away just because people take fright at certain misunderstandings. His point was precisely that neither the secular state nor any particular religion can ‘monopolise’.
First the great problem here (a problem that also exists in Williams Lecture) is the assumption that the State can be Secular. What Wright calls the secular State is not secular but rather is derivative of some kind of religious conviction. The problem is not one of the Secular state trying to be master of all of life, including the private sphere vs. alien religions trying to be master of all of life including the public square. The problem is that it is a contest between two different competing religions. The Secular State provides its own religion and that religion impinges upon the private realm of citizens causing conflict with citizens who don’t practice the civil religion of the State. On the other hand competing religions, being totalistic in their reach, will challenge the current State because it is not derivative of the alien cultures religions to which the adherents subscribe.
Second Wright’s problem is that he is still trying to carve out some kind of neutral realm where no religion or where all religions prevail. But even if he finds a arrangement where ‘neither the secular state nor any particular religion can ‘monopolise,’ he will have created the monopoly that requires that nobody can have a monopoly. Even if such an idee fixe could be created the requirements that it would take to maintain that idee fixe would constitute a monopoly that any other religion would not be allowed to go beyond. In short, totalistic arrangements or cultural monopolies are unavoidable and inevitable. The problem that Wright and Williams are rubbing up against is their reluctance to recognize that somebody’s religion must be in the ascendancy. The answer that they are offering to avoid this is to find a compromise religion (the ‘no monopoly religion’) that all can sincerely subscribe to while they pretend to give allegiance to their part time gods. Wright was correct when he said that ‘Jesus is Lord of all or He is not Lord at all,’ and to try and discover some system where Jesus wouldn’t be Lord of all, reveals that Wright has some problems in his Theology.
Third, Wright assumes that it is societally proper to cherish different faiths. That assumption is a religious one (the religion of multi-culturalism) and it may not be one that people of other religions cherish. Muslim societies don’t cherish other faiths and depending upon what Wright means by ‘cherish’ I’m not sure a genuinely Christian society should cherish other faiths either.
Look, when one gets right down to brass tacks some faith system is going to produce some law system. That law system will either reflect Muslim Sharia or it will reflect Christian Law categories, or as is most predominant in the West today, it will reflect humanistic law categories. The Islamic presence in the bowels of the West are presenting problems for the West precisely because they, unlike many Christians, have retained genuine allegiance to their God.
It sounds like the answer of Bishops like Williams and Wright is to yield to the demands of aliens in their midst. I don’t suppose that the option of turning away from both the law monopoly of Islam and the law monopoly of the pagan State and turning towards the Lordship of Christ in the area of law occurred to either one of them.